Tuesday, August 11, 2015

How Time Flies . . .(AKA What Happened to All of Those Bali Posts Anyway?!)

Six months ago today I had just taken off from Chicago on my way to Denpasar, Bali by way of Doha, Qatar. Half a year ago already.  Cindy Lange-Kubick wrote a great article for today's Lincoln Journal Star lamenting that summer gets shorter every year, and citing research about why we perceive time differently as we age.  So while it might seem like a long time since I've posted to the blog, let's all pretend it wasn't.  And I'll catch you up the best I can.

While most of you know everything I'll write about in this post and have likely forgotten it by now (memory seems to fade as quickly as summer the older we get), I am reminded periodically when I meet one of you in the grocery store and you ask if you missed all of my Bali blog posts, that not all of you have ventured into Facebook, which was one of the few online services I had decent access to while in Bali.  So, while you didn't miss Bali blog posts - there was only one - you did miss links to photos from my 3 hour visit to Doha and from the amazing month I spent in Bali.  You'll find links to the photos and video on a web site I created for a conference presentation on the Brave Project for those of you who missed them.

So why one post from a whole month in Bali?

Well, three things happened.

1)  Six months ago today, while I was in the air to Doha, Qatar, my dad passed away unexpectedly.  Kevin reached me via Google chat to let me know just before I was headed from Doha's Souq Waqif night market back to the airport to catch my 10 hour flight to Denpasar in Bali.  After discussion over airport wifi with friends and family, it was decided I should continue on with the trip. So while I anticipated the challenges of adjusting to a new climate and culture, not to mention being so far away from friends and family, I didn't anticipate the extra challenge of experiencing a major life transition during that time as well. But my hosts and fellow volunteers were exceptionally kind and gracious to me (not to mention all of you back at home who sent encouraging texts and Facebook messages), and I was still able to learn and grow even more than I'd hoped during the next month.  My hosts, Ketut and Nyomen, shared their cultural traditions around death, including leading me through a prayer ceremony in their family temple, encouraging me to participate in a cremation ceremony for a local priest who passed away, and teaching me how to participate in the holy water rituals at the fascinating Tirta Empul temple.  Once I got home in late March, I took on all of the paperwork and things that need to happen following a death since my sister handled the funeral and associated tasks that needed to be done while I was in Bali.  The two of us interred dad's ashes at Mt. Vernon Cemetary in Peru, NE, a couple of weeks ago and are nearly finished with settling the estate.

2)  Despite going to Bali specifically to teach technology skills at a local Yaysan (after school program), internet access in Bali is weak at best and awful at worst.  I knew lots of friends and family here at home were concerned about me traveling alone to a place most of us knew so little about, so I did my best to create a post right after I arrived that let folks know via photos, sounds and words that all was well with me in my little village.  When I look back at that post now, I think it does a great job of describing my life near Ubud over the next few weeks, despite writing it on only my 3rd day there.  I was also able to post a 5 minute video to Youtube that I took with my iphone while traveling back from the local market on the back of Nyomen's motorbike one morning to allow folks here to see what it was like outside of my homestay.  For perspective, it took about an hour to upload each minute of video - when it actually worked. So I took pages and pages of offline notes and thousands of photos that I hope to begin crafting into some sort of a book soon.  Stay tuned on that one.  :)

3)  From my pre-trip research I crafted a list of things I wanted to do while I was in Bali - take a silversmithing class, take Balinese cooking lessons, visit a local elementary school, visit my students at their home, participate in local religious and cultural ceremonies, take a yoga class, take a batik class, visit a local market, get a massage, take a flower petal bath, visit the beach . . .and riding a bicycle through the rice fields.  All of which I was able to do, in addition to so many more experiences as well. Thankfully the bike tour came just a few days before I flew home because it also resulted in something I hadn't included on my travel to-do list - a trip to the local medical clinic.  Not far into a beautiful ride down from Mt. Batur on a bike that could be described as "well worn," my brake cable snapped and I took a tumble that ultimately resulted in a fractured arm and a fractured rib, although neither was diagnosed until a couple of weeks after I got home.  

I was impressed with the efficiency of the local clinic, and I left with multiple prescriptions for muscle relaxers and pain meds that allowed me to move well enough to experience one more item on my pre-trip list:  visit the sacred monkey forest.  (Man, was that a memorable experience, and yes my eyes are slightly TERRIFIED in this photo!  As you walk through the forest, the monkeys just leap onto you!  You can see the pucker on my shirt where he grabbed on to climb up!  Holy monkeys! Yay for pre-rabies shots before I left!) 

So returning home, jumping back into work, adjusting back to the local time zone (Bali is 14 hours ahead of us, so night and day are reversed there compared with here) and allowing my body to heal took priority over blog posts.  

So that brings us to now. While Bali was certainly a culminating part of the initial phase of the Brave Project, that project is not over!  I've been on local adventures since returning home, both planned and unplanned, and the next post will catch you up on those as well.

For now . . .get your own brave on and get out there tonight or tomorrow night to catch some of those perseid meteors!  Bonus points if you remember how to know they are perseids based on what we learned at Star Camp last summer!

It's good to be back to the blog.  

PS:  I have spoken to several classrooms and groups about my experiences in Bali, and I have some great local items I brought home to share with people.  If you're part of a group that would like to know more about Balinese culture, let me know!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Bali: First Impressions

As I begin this first post in Bali, I am sitting next to the window of my loft bedroom listening to the rain fall and the roosters crow.  It's 5 am, and they are starting their song late this morning. The dogs, geckos and other birds haven't joined in yet, but they will soon add their harmony to the chorus as well. Perhaps all of them are rousing late due to the gentle rain this morning. Those are the only sounds I hear - it's extremely peaceful and quiet most of the time here, but there are exceptions too.

Every day at 6 am, noon and 6 pm, local people, most of whom are Balinese Hindu, are called via a priest chanting and music playing over loudspeakers of some sort, to place offerings at the temples. Each offering is in a small flat basket made for that purpose and filled with flowers and incense, then placed at various places around the family compound, including the family temple. This is done by the women of the family, and they dress in sarongs and lace shirts, with sashes tied around their waists, each time they place the offerings. Once they place the offerings, they are back to wearing capri's and t-shirts. Everyone wears flip flops no matter what the occasion, and you don't wear shoes into buildings. From what I have seen in my few short days here, life revolves around the practice of their faith, as well the demands of the climate.

Bali is near the equator, and the heat and humidity are fairly extreme.  I have not checked the temperatures as my internet access is very limited and slow most of the time, but I would guess the temperatures reach 95 degrees each day, with very high humidity.  It's generally sweltering, and there is no air conditioning, nor even fans, in most places, so the pace of life is forced to be much slower. Especially for those of us here from places without the constant extreme heat. I learned after my tour of the village from our local teacher who is studying to be a teacher at the university in Denpasar, that because Balinese people ride their motorbikes everywhere, they are also not used to walking in the heat and tire easily, just as we do.

View of the family compound
from the breakfast table
What I see when I wake
up in the morning.
The family compound where I am experiencing my homestay has several small buildings within a walled area. Most life takes place in the open air here, which is understandable with the heat.  Unlike at home, all of the rooms a family needs to live are not under one roof as our homes are.  The small buildings serve individual purposes, and multiple family units.  Outside of sleeping areas, which are built of brick and very small - housing only a bed or two for the parents and all of their children, and the kitchen, which is also very small and in the back attached to the back of one of the bedroom buildings, everything takes place in small buildings I can best compare to picnic shelters at home.  A roof, a floor and open sides.

So delicious.  The yellow fruit is jackfruit.  Love it!
A small gazebo like structure has a table with two long benches where the volunteers gather to eat breakfast each morning.  We have two choices for breakfast - a banana pancake or an omelette with toast.  We are also served fresh juices of our choice - watermelon is already a favorite of mine - and after we eat the main entree we are each presented with a beautiful bowl of fresh fruit.  All of this is included in our fee to the volunteer agency, and while it is not broken out from the program fee, I would guess it costs about $15/day for room and board.

View from my windows.

My room is simple, yet comfortable.  For now, I am staying in a loft room with a soaring thatched ceiling and two twin beds, as it was the only one open when I arrived.  Since most volunteers are younger, and the hosts prefer to house them with others their age, I will be moving to a single room downstairs this weekend after more volunteers arrive.  My floor is made of gleaming white tile, and I have built-in cupboards and drawers with intricately carved wooden detail around the windows and glass cupboard doors.  My windows have no glass or screens, but only wooden shutters.  I have left them open all the time to capture any breeze there is, but do need to close them in the afternoon to block the sun. I also have a ceiling fan and an electrical outlet, as well as 2 small overhead lights. I use the lights as little as possible, because at least in my mind it helps keep the bugs out. I sleep under a mosquito net mostly to help protect me from contracting diseases like Dengue fever, which you can't be immunized against.  My only furniture besides the bed is a wooden chair and a reclaimed dresser. The electrical outlet is European and requires an adapter, so I can only plug in one thing at a time to charge since I brought one adapter. I really love the space and the view up here, and I will miss it when I move downstairs to a single room.
The beautiful home of Juan Carlos.

I was startled on my first afternoon here to find some animal poo in on the floor of my room.  I knew it was too big to be a mouse, but had no idea what type of critter had deposited it.  After talking with my volunteer friends at breakfast, I learned it was gecko poo.  Apparently a large gecko lives in my ceiling munching away on mosquitos.  So I've named him Juan Carlos and choose to believe he prefers the ceiling to my bed. 

I have a "modern" bathroom downstairs, which means a toilet like we have at home, and a shower. They are together in a small tiled room, and the shower is a wand on the wall near a drain in the corner.  There is no enclosure of any sort, so you just shut the bathroom door and shower away. There is also no hot water.  At first, I did the shower version of the Hokey Pokey - just put one body part under the water at a time due to how cold it was, but now I plunk my whole body under the spout at least twice a day. And I caught myself yesterday wishing the water was colder.  In fact, my fellow volunteer and friend Sabine, a Ph.D. chemist and patent attorney from Germany in her life outside of volunteering in Bali, told me that she discovered from a conversation with our hosts yesterday that the people we see wrapped in towels when we walk down the road to have dinner at a small cafe do have water at home, but choose to bathe at a public bathhouse near the river because the water is even colder there.

Gado gado from the Pulu cafe.
 Dinner out in pj pants.
Even the small cafes where we have dinner are unique to the area.  I can best compare it to having dinner on a friend's patio at home.  Typically there are just 2 or 3 tables under a roof, no walls, and the family who lives there are all going on about their lives around you.

Fresh pineapple juice
and vital water.
The food everywhere I've eaten here is amazing.  So fresh and generally healthy too. Gado Gado is a popular vegetarian dish, and while it varies with ingredients based on who makes it, it generally includes bits of fried tofu and tempeh, string beans, carrots, bean sprouts, cooked greens similar to spinach and steamed rice.  It is served with delicious peanut sauce I'm used to eating with spring rolls at the home. The neighborhood Pulu cafe is a favorite of the volunteers here, as it is just a short walk down the road.  They offer several main dishes, a few desserts and a list of fresh juices:  pineapple, mandarin, mango, papaya, banana and mixed fruit.  Last night for dinner I had gado gado, a pandan paste (local herb) crepe filled with banana and topped with coconut and molasses syrup, fresh pineapple juice and a bottle of water. Total cost was 83,000 rupiah, about $6.50 US.

Traffic here is best described as an intricate dance where each person knows their part.  Roads are narrow and often crowded with parked motorbikes and vans along the side. If there are sidewalks, they are narrow and often have large holes into the infrastructure below so it's critical to carry a "torch" as my European friends call a flashlight, and always pay close attention to where you are going. Motorbike (part motorcycle, part scooter) seems to be the preferred mode of transportation, and I often see multiple people riding on one bike - a toddler standing between his parents on the seat, 3 people on the seat with a young child standing where you would place your feet on a scooter. Sabine has learned to drive one here, and I am in awe of her courage.  Komang, our delightful 20-year-old local teacher who is actually studying education at the university in Denpasar, about an hour and a half away from here, lives nearby and gave me a ride home after our volunteer orientation in Ubud on Sunday morning. As I looked across the top of her helmet (yep, I am a giant here too) and gripped her tiny waist, I just prayed that I would not have a brain injury if we crashed. I shouldn't have worried as she is a master dancer on the motorbike.  

To reassure all of you concerned about my safety so far from home, rest assured there seems to be no better place I could be.  Balinese Hindus believe in karma, and that everything they do reflects on their families and friends, so they are genuinely good people.  There is little crime, and people are exceptionally kind.  Always. We need to be much more concerned with falling into a hole in the sidewalk than experiencing any crime. No one locks anything, and feels secure that it will be there when they return. Reminds me of the Auburn I grew up in. Rest assured, I am watching carefully where I walk and am careful when crossing the street.

Thanks for your patience in waiting for my first blog post from Bali.  On my first morning here, Melanie, a beautiful, smart young woman from Canada who reminds me so much of Olivia and has been here for several weeks volunteering already, wisely told me, "Bali teaches you patience." And that's a lesson we can all continue to learn.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Catching up!

About a month ago, Cindy Lange-Kubick contacted me for a follow-up to her story about the Brave Project that she wrote last fall. 

Here's what she said, "Off to Bali:  Lynne McKnight Herr was in the midst of her Brave Project -- singing in front of strangers, camping alone, writing poetry -- when I wrote about her this fall. She’s a month out from her biggest challenge, a teaching stint in Bali. 'I am choosing to ignore the fact that yet another plane went down in the area, and I'm banking on Qatar Airways’ perfect safety record to stay intact throughout my trip.' We are, too, Lynne. (Note: She plans to take a “suspended yoga and aerial performance class” when she returns.)" 

 Since blog space isn't quite as limited as newspaper space, here's the "rest of the story."

I went to the week-long Advanced Circle Way Practitioner Practicum (AKA by me as Circle Hippie Camp) in November on Whidbey Island near Seattle.  Circle Way is a group facilitation process based on ancient tradition.  It was held at a beautiful Buddhist retreat center, and my first experience involved being "smudged" with sage smoke fanned at me with an owl wing. There were tree huggers (literally), a dancing nun who lives in a "conDO" vs a "conVENT", and lots of passing of the "talking piece" around our circle. As the only "techie" there it was extra special when my iphone decided to randomly shout out during a particularly contemplative, quiet time in the circle, "I CAN'T TAKE ANY MORE REQUESTS FROM YOU!" Thankfully, my awesome new friends from Circle Camp are forgiving sorts and they let it go. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot about the power of our stories, the importance of telling them, and the role of conflict in groups. (Conflict is called "shadow" in Circle Practice. I do a lot of shadow dancing these days.) 

I also threw a towel around myself and trekked through the frigid forest at AlderMarsh at 3:30 am to be brave and use the outdoor shower. Totally worth it to look up through the forest at the full moon while washing your hair with organic something or other while everyone who might catch a glimpse of you was soundly sleeping. 

I had a great opportunity to spend time before and after Circle Camp in Seattle with Catalyst friends Lisa and Rhonda. Knowing my fashion challenges, it was pretty exciting to be singled out by a high school student at Pike Place Market who was looking to award his "nice outfit" card to a random stranger as part of a leadership project. Rock on BP fashion consultants Kelly and Jackie!  :) 

Despite my unexpected fashion award in Seattle, I still have a ways to go before my photo spread in Fashion Forward Giants of the Great Plains. I'm still expanding my wardrobe, and wearing all kinds of skirts, boots and graphic t's. I even own a pair of cheetah print flats, bought on clearance for $8 at Payless. On days that are particularly challenging, I always wear dangling ear rings for extra courage.  

Some of you saw my FB post about my fashion faux pas.  Oh dear Lord. For several weeks (including my week at Circle Camp) I wore a gray and white scarf that I thought was decorated with abstract paisley patterns. Alas, when I laid it flat to iron it for the first time, I discovered it is actually covered in skulls.  

My friends found this hilarious as I am as far as you can get from someone who delights in skull accessories. (They also wondered aloud why on earth I would iron a scarf!)  ;) So, now I wear it intentionally any time I need a little secret bad ass street cred. Paired with dangly ear rings, and my cheetah flats, I'm generally unstoppable.

My new friend from torch singer class, LeeAnn, threw down a challenge and asked if I wanted to be brave and buy a Groupon for suspended yoga and aerial performance classes. While I couldn't exactly turn down a brave challenge, I suggested that we wait to take the class after I return from Bali since I tend to fall over doing yoga at the Y. ON THE FLOOR. (And it sounds like my legs could be ripped right off my body in this little gem of a class. I might need them to get around the village in Bali)!  

My mom reminded me that I wanted to join the circus as a trapeeze performer when I was a kid, so this is my big chance! I grabbed this photo of a performer at the Florida Ed Tech Conference I recently attended in Orlando. I wonder if it took her more than 4 lessons to get to that point? 

In the spirit of the Brave Project, I also took my first helicopter ride in Orlando with friends Lucas and Jackie. So awesome! And even this gal who gets motion sick watching something spin on TV didn't get one bit queasy!

The countdown to Bali is on! I leave next Wednesday, February 11, so I am under the 1 week mark at this point. The Indonesian Embassy accepted my collection of documents (including copies of my bank statement, a letter from my employer that I do indeed have a job both now and after I return, and two color photos) showing I have solid plans to return to the US and issued me a 60-day social visa in record time. It's firmly secured in my passport, which is hanging on the refrigerator ready to be held with shaky hands to get me both into Qatar for my one night layover stay, and into Bali for my month-long volunteer stint. 

I had my last Hepatitis immunization, and the blood test to show I don't have tuberculosis (which will be repeated one month after I return to make sure I didn't pick it up while there - eeek.) Szu Hau at the UNL travel med clinic told me that while it's great that I've been immunized for pre-rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, influenza, whooping cough, typhoid fever, tetanus, and hepatitis, I need to be extra careful crossing the street once I get there since car accidents are my greatest potential for injury and death. Some of you know I was hit by a car while crossing the street a few months before our wedding, so surely that lightning, or speeding car in this case, won't strike twice! Second only to the mosquito-borne illnesses I can't be immunized against!  LOL! She stocked me up on drugs to battle anticipated "Bali Belly" and enough malaria prophylaxis to get me through three weekend visits to area islands that are full up with mosquitos and gorgeous sunsets. And she threw in a Z-pack for good measure!

At last Saturday's Catalyst Grant meeting, I tried to put into words my progress on the Brave Project since our last meeting in October. It's hard to do. Because while camps and clothes and classes are all part of it, the Brave Project is so much more. There are welcome outside changes - easily evidenced in this recent photo collage. 

But most of the brave project changes are less obvious. Owning my story - even the parts I would write differently if I had the chance. Speaking up. Stretching the boundaries I knowingly and unknowingly had created for myself. Trusting more. Forgiving more. Letting my guard down. And, yes, having more fun. Even if it makes me feel like an awkward 48-year-old teenager half the time. 

That's it for now. There's packing to be done!